As part of a prospect pool bursting at the seams, the Dallas Stars have a wealth of talent at the junior level in the midst of the 2013-14 season.
Most of the talent comes from the forward positions, but they have some potential gems behind their own blue line as well. With some big producers and others experiencing helpful transitions, the Stars own an eclectic group of young players.
Dmitry Sinitsyn, D, Regina Pats
Acquired: 7th round (183rd overall) in 2012
After not playing more than a handful of games in his draft year or during his freshman campaign at UMass-Lowell, Dmitry Sinitsyn was claimed in the CHL Import Draft by Regina and has certainly been put to work. He has quickly become one of the more skilled blueliners on the team and is getting fed ice time that he has probably not seen in years. Normally paired with Kyle Burroughs (NYI), the tandem leads the way for club scoring among blueliners.
The defensive side of the bench in Regina is handled by Bill McGuigan and he gushed about his 19-year-old defenseman, “He shoots well, passes well…he’s big, strong and has a great stick…he plays like a pro.” The Pats’ coaching staff is trying its best not to run the Russian rearguard ragged by controlling his minutes, but they admit that it is not easy given how much they rely on him every night.
“He plays a pretty simple game and he doesn’t use a lot of energy,” McGuigan continued. Sinitsyn is used in all situations for the Pats. While he is still a little raw and is still learning the “structure” of some WHL tactics and gameplay, the Stars seventh round pick is fitting in splendidly in his new digs.
Cole Ully, LW, Kamloops Blazers
Acquired: 5th round (131st overall) in 2013
It has been a trying year for the Kamloops Blazers. They have been named the victors in just nine of 36 contests thus far and they have scored a WHL-low 90 goals so far. One of the few bright spots for them, however, has been offensive winger Cole Ully. With 38 points in 34 games, he is the lone point-per-game player on the club. Despite the top-line minutes, largely with Matt Needham and Chase Souto, the line combines to be plus-11 on a team that has a minus-55 goal differential.
Naturally, the slick fifth round pick is relied upon more so for his offensive traits and is still a bit careless defensively. Ully’s line seems to be the only one that can advance past center ice with the puck most nights though, so the need for him to push the pace is high. He still has a long way to go to polish off his skills and fill out his wiry frame. “When we drafted him, we all thought he was special in terms of creating offense,” Kamloops Head Coach Dave Hunchak told Hockey’s Future. “In terms of his progression, there’s a lot of positive, but there are definitely some things he needs to continue to work on.”
Hunchak noted that Ully always wants to make a play and sometimes his puck management skills are not ideal for the benefit of the team. Unfortunately, on a team that was demolished seven to zero on their own “teddy bear toss” night recently, Ully is their only hope most nights.
Mike Winther, F, Prince Albert Raiders
Acquired: 2nd round (54th overall) in 2012
Mike Winther, the spunky second round pick from Prince Albert, has struggled a little bit to find his game this season. He never was quite able to take over as the lead man on this Raiders team before Leon Draisaitl stole the show. However, Winther is finding other ways to contribute to the lineup. On the score sheet, he has a modest three goals and 11 assists in 18 games. Obviously, missing splotches of time now and again have not helped him find his rhythm and that continues to plague him.
Though the numbers are not terribly impressive, Winther is capable of playing in any situation and he can line up at pivot or on the wing. Recently, he seems to be finding a spot on the left wing with Reid Gardiner and Jayden Hart. He adds quickness to the Raiders and he is getting increasingly feisty. Winther is a jack-of-all-trades, but master-of-none type of player right now. He may be required to further carve out a niche before he inks an entry-level contract.
Branden Troock, LW/RW, Seattle Thunderbirds
Acquired: 5th round (134th overall) in 2012
Finally healthy for an extended stretch, Branden Troock is showing why the Stars used a fifth round pick on him in 2012. In 33 games, Troock leads Seattle forwards in points with 40 and plus/minus at plus-11. He has moved around a little bit within the Seattle top-six, but recently he has found great success with yet-to-be-draft-eligible right winger Ryan Gropp. Troock’s usual partner in crime, import center Alexander Delnov (FLA), continues to do great work with him. The T-Birds are flying high with this line and are on quite a tear despite just average special teams.
Troock is now playing his off side a little more at even strength, as opposed to just on the power play. He has been very difficult for opposing defensemen to handle when he is driving the net or picking up pucks along the boards. At 6’4 and around 200 pounds, he gets a ton behind his shots but he is showing that he can be a playmaker too. If he can stay healthy, he could make some noise in what is already a deep pool of talented wingers.
Jason Dickinson, LW/C, Guelph Storm
Acquired: 1st round (29th overall) in 2013
The Guelph Storm have been in an arms race as they fight for a spot atop one of the toughest divisions in junior hockey with, principally, Erie and London. Jason Dickinson, sporting 37 points and a plus-19 rating in 34 games, is a major part of a top-nine group of forwards that is highly enviable throughout the league. As the team has evolved, his role and/or linemates have been altered as well. Once the finished product finds its chemistry, Dickinson could be in for an even bigger spike in production.
The Stars second first round pick in 2013 can skate well and he has high hockey IQ to augment his natural technical skills. The biggest question surrounding Dickinson is: how plugged in is he? Some nights it looks like he needs new batteries; but he is far from the first Stars prospect that has had this label of sorts and the results have been largely positive to date. Dickinson, unfortunately for him, was not invited to partake in Team Canada’s quest for gold at the World Junior Championships.
Remi Elie, LW, Belleville Bulls
Acquired: 2nd round (40th overall) in 2013
After losing a bevy quality blueliners, the London Knights sold some stock for veteran defenesman Brady Austin (BUF). That stock, as it were, was Stars draft pick Remi Elie. Elie gained a lot of experience points in a depth role thanks to a Memorial Cup trip last season with London. But when the 2013-14 season kicked off, it looked as if Elie was on the outside looking in with regard to the top-six forward schematics. Elie, now with Belleville, has a chance to show off whatever offensive potential he has in a more central role.
With Garrett Hooey and Brendan Gaunce (VAN) off to greener pastures, Elie now assumes the team-lead in goals (13), assists (18), and points (31) through 33 contests. He has not lost his board-rattling ways in the evolution, as he does effective finishing work on the forecheck. He has a heavy shot that can bore a hole in some goaltenders. The total offensive package may or may not be there, but Elie might have a future as a complementary goal-scorer.
Nicholas Paul, C, North Bay Battalion
Acquired: 4th round (101st overall) in 2013
Now more a pivot than a winger, Nick Paul is doing his best to make the most of his increased ice time and role. The second-year player skates for the same team but in a new barn as the Battalion have moved from Brampton to North Bay. Paul has already matched his goal total from last season (12) in half as many games. Not a star-studded club, the Battalion try to hang in there by playing a 200-foot game as best as they can. Paul is working on polishing his defensive game and he has been given time on the penalty kill.
Ultimately, there is not a lot to Paul’s game. He can shoot and he is a game competitor. The Stars fourth round pick has been a little cheekier with the stickhandling this year and has surprised some defensemen and crease dwellers as a result. His upside does not appear to be particularly high overall but he has improved this season.
Radek Faksa, C, Kitchener Rangers
Acquired: 1st round (13th overall) in 2012
It was a struggle last season for Radek Faksa and his Rangers. This season, he has been better most nights but the team has not met its potential. Faksa ranks second with 14 goals and leads the team in points with 25, despite the Rangers’ dismal power play (on which Faksa plays the point of the first unit). He is the most skilled player on the team and houses the best chance for offensive success. Naturally, he spends a lot of time on the top line, sometimes even on the left wing.
Faksa has the talent and the wherewithal to do more than his numbers suggest. He is not terribly fast nor is he an elite playmaker, but he definitely has the look of a natural goal scorer. With the Rangers being dismantled for draft picks, it would not at all be surprising to see Faksa moved for a package that includes a few nice draft picks in the not-too-distant future.
Gemel Smith, C, Owen Sound Attack
Acquired: 4th round (104th overall) in 2012
Gemel Smith has been pretty hot for much of the year. Thanks to a torrid start, Smith’s nine September goals catapulted him into the scoring race for the year it seems. He is currently tied for seventh in the circuit having already matched his career best of 23 in just 35 games. He leads his team with 39 points, leading the Attack to fourth place in their difficult division. The duo of Smith at center and Zach Nastasiuk (DET) on the wing has helped buoy an otherwise punch-less offense.
Smith is a little short on size but not on heart and energy. He has shown a little better puck poise and playmaking ability this season but ultimately it was not enough to get invited to play for Team Canada for the WJC. On a team with a lot more gumption than pure skill, Smith has stood out even more as an offense creator.
Cody Payne, RW, Saginaw Spirit
Acquired: Trade with Boston April, 2013
Cody Payne is a curious story. Acquired from Boston in a big deadline deal last season, Payne himself has moved to another junior team – his third – down to Saginaw. He is the breadwinner for the club in terms of goal-scoring with 15 but he is not top-five in points or even top-ten in assists. He broke out last season with Plymouth but was a non-factor in the playoffs. With Saginaw, he has been moved all over the lineup and has even been a healthy scratch at times.
He has the size and goal-scoring ability to be more of a power forward type. Unfortunately, his effort is somewhat inconsistent and he often over-relies on his skill as opposed to going into corners and battling it out on the cycle regularly. He can definitely shoot and he really wants to push the play forward. He remains an interesting project but it is very unclear what he will amount to right now.
Philippe Desrosiers, G, Rimouski Oceanic
Drafted 2nd round (54th overall) in 2013
The third goaltender selected in the 2013 NHL Draft, Philippe Desrosiers has been off to a slow start this season with the middling Oceanic. He has struggled with his composure and consistency in the early going but has been improving. At 11-10-6 and allowing 3.17 goals per game, Desrosiers’ game is not where he wants it to be and not where his team needs it to be. This is not uncommon, however, for players coming out of their draft year as they end up never fully getting a break during the summer due to a myriad of combines and camps.
“The general feeling is that you don’t see a goalie turn the corner in this situation until after Christmas,” Rimouski goalie coach Michael Rioux told Hockey’s Future. Desrosiers may have had everything come a little too easy for him in the past year and his game suffered as a result. “He’s working harder than ever now; he’s watching a lot of tape, he’s working hard in practice, he’s getting better.”
While the Stars second round pick has his foundations in the butterfly, he is not a robotic goaltender. He has a lot of reactionary saves in his toolbox for when the going gets tough. In fact, part of his issue this season has been his erraticism and his over-committing to plays. He is trying to reel his game in though.
“He has so much passion for the game and he wants to try new things…he’ll see something in another game and then work on it in practice to see if [it works for him],” Rioux said of his young apprentice. “He likes Carey Price, he wants to be calm like him.”
Maxime Lagace, G, Shawinigan Cataractes
Acquired: Signed as a free agent July, 2012
Embarking on his overage season, Maxime Lagace has had a rough go of it so far. He has been injured and traded so far in this young year and has yet to suit up for his new team. He appeared in eight games for Cape Breton before being moved to Shawinigan. The Cataractes are the worst team in the QMJHL and already have import Marvin Cupper and ’95 born Storm Phaneuf in the nets, so the likelihood of a trade is high when Lagace is able to resume his time in the crease.
Lagace has not shown much promise thus far and is looking like an ECHL goalie, at least to start, when he turns pro.
Troy Vance, D, Charlottetown Islanders
Acquired: 5th round (135th overall) in 2011
Strong American defenseman Troy Vance has continued his overage season with the team formerly known as the Prince Edward Island Rocket – now known as the Charlottetown Islanders. The Islanders are perforated for nearly 40 shots against per night. Vance helps to handle some of the toughest competition, but he can only do so much. He is a physical player and has been suspended for six games for a hit on Moncton’s Chris Caissy in early November.
Vance is a reasonably effective defensive player who does fine work along the boards and can win pucks in corners. He keeps his game as simple as possible to avoid over-exerting his limited offensive upside. Vance will be up against tough competition for time in the AHL next season and it would not be surprising if his next stop is the ECHL.
Matej Paulovic, LW, Muskegon Lumberjacks
Acquired: 5th round (149th overall) in 2013
Matej Paulovic scored two goals and two assists in 18 games for the Peterborough Petes to begin the season before the club released their eighth overall selection from the 2013 CHL Import Draft. Paulovic, who has his rights owned by both Muskegon (USHL) and HC Slovan Bratislava (KHL), has been moved to the Lumberjacks. Muskegon GM John Vanbiesbrouck told Hockey’s Future that Paulovic will play as soon as he works out his visa issues and expects to have him “after the break.”
Paulovic looked a little out of place at the major junior level. He will have a better chance to develop his skills and prop up his skating at the lower USHL level.
Follow Mike Farkas on Twitter: @MichaelFarkasHF